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The Secret to Agency Life Success – Chris Long // Go Fish Digital

Episode Overview: A key aspect to developing a career in SEO is finding the right agency for you that is credible and offers plentiful opportunities to explore. Join host Ben as he continues his discussion with Go Fish Digital’s Senior SEO Manager Chris Long reviewing the best practices for working for, or with, an SEO agency and how to find one that aligns with your career goals.

Summary

  • “So, you want to partner with an agency that’s going to first, talk about your specific needs. What do you think is the biggest issue with your SEO? Do you have a problem with users generated content or something like that? So, an agency that really takes the time to dive in to the problems that you specifically think are the biggest problems with your SEO, as well, agencies that are going to give you an indication of priority on things.” – Chris Long, on how to evaluate whether an agency is right for you.
  • On partnering with a credible agency: “One, for me personally, I would want to partner with an agency that kind of thinks like I think, right? Are they data focused? Have they written things before and that kind of showed that their data focus? Maybe you can look for, ‘Hey, does this agency speak at industry events like SMX or MozCon or Pubcon?’ If you see that a lot of their employees are speaking to those events, it could be kind of a good sign that they may be a little bit more of a credible agency.”
  • On the most surprising aspect of working with an agency – “I would think the constant mind shifting that it takes to put yourself from one client to another within the same day. Right? So, in the same eight to 10 hour period, we might have to think about five to 10 different clients, and whether that’s thinking about a particular implementation, whether that’s popping on a client call and actually getting an ID and findings, this kind of ability to constantly shift your thinking from one problem to the next.”

GUESTS & RESOURCES

Ben:                 Welcome to agency month on The Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host Benjamin Shapiro, and this month we’re discussing the best practices for working for, or with, an SEO agency. Joining us again today is Chris Long who is the senior manager of SEO at Go Fish Digital, which is a leading agency for online reputation management, providing their clients with expertise in search engine optimization, content marketing, social media marketing, influencer marketing and more. Yesterday Chris and I have talked about his career and how he’s gone from entering the working world to growing up in an agency, and leading SEO at Go Fish Digital. Today we’re going to talk more about what life is really like working inside an agency. Okay. On with the show. Here’s my conversation with Chris Long, senior manager of SEO at Go Fish Digital. Chris, welcome back to The Voices of Search podcast.

Chris:               Yeah, I appreciate you having me back Ben.

Ben:                 Great to have you here. Yesterday we talked a lot about you and your career and you’ve got a quickly developing career. You’ve gone from breaking into the working world, to working for multiple agencies at this point and also specializing in SEO. This month we’re talking a lot about what life is like working with and finding the right agencies, and I wanted to take a second and flip the table around and talk about what life is like finding the right agency and building great agency relationships from the agency partner perspective. You’ve had a handful of experiences going through this. Let’s talk a little bit about how you figure out what the right agency for you is and what to expect when you’re actually starting. Give us your thoughts on evaluating an agency from an agency employee’s perspective.

Chris:               Right. Yeah, so that’s a great question. I mean, I would say one of the biggest things for people evaluating an agency would be, “how does that agency specifically try to tailor their solutions to your problems?” I would think you would maybe want to partner with an agency that is just going to give you this blanket advice. “Hey, you need to fix all of these redirects. You need to low index all of these pages.” It’s a very kind of boilerplate solution. I think one thing that sets us a bit apart is that we try to come up with very custom solutions. So you want to partner with an agency that’s going to first, talk about your specific needs. What do you think is the biggest issue with your SEO? Do you have a problem with users generated content or something like that? So an agency that really takes the time to dive in to the problems that you specifically think are the biggest problems with your SEO, as well, agencies that are going to give you an indication of priority on things.

Chris:               One of the most dangerous things of I think a lot of a lot of SEO audits is, once again, they’re fairly boilerplate, right? There’s a lot of tools out there that can say, “Go fix these 256 meta descriptions.” But the issue might be is there could be way higher priority things to fix that might be more specific to your situation. So finding an agency that’s going to tailor solutions to your problems, and to give you an idea of kind of the priority on things and be able to confidently tell you why they’re making certain recommendations and why they’re higher priority.

Ben:                 So for sure I understand why it’s important for the in-house SEO, or marketer, to make sure that their agency is customizing their solutions. But let’s play out a scenario here and I want your take on how to evaluate the validity of an agency from somebody who’s worked in them. Hypothetically, let’s say Go Fish Digital just ceased operations tomorrow, and you’re out in the world and you’re starting to look for a new agency. What are some of the things that you’re looking for to evaluate whether it’s a credible agency as a place of employment?

Chris:               Yeah, so there’s numerous things. One, for me personally, I would want to partner with an agency that kind of thinks like I think, right? Are they data focused? Have they written things before and that kind of showed that their data focus? So, you could spend a lot of time reading their blogs to get an idea of kind of how their process seems and an idea, of hopefully, a post on how the agency thinks. As well, things that kind of establish some form of credibility. Maybe you can look for, “Hey, does this agency speak at industry events like SMX or MozCon or Pubcon?” If you see that a lot of their employees are speaking to those events, it could be kind of a good sign that they may be a little bit more of a credible agency.

Chris:               Taking a look at the brands that they work with on their websites. Also kind of another sign of credibility there. I think that personally, the number one would be reading posts, seeing do they think like I think, and as well if you’re interested in looking at another agency, I think one of the best solutions is to reach out to members who used to work there for their opinion on the agency. What was it like? What was the culture like? Especially if they have a new role, they’re a little more likely to be less bias and give you an honest and genuine answer.

Ben:                 The culture is obviously a very important part. You mentioned a couple of different important aspects here. One, how much credibility does the agency have? Do they think like you think? And also the culture. As you’re evaluating the culture of an agency, how much do you look for who your direct manager is, what the brand is, or who the leadership is? How do you prioritize those three things?

Chris:               Sure, so I think the most important of those three would be one, who your direct management would be, the person that you’re going to be working with and interfacing day to day. That’s probably going to have one of the biggest impacts in terms of your quality of life at work, but two definitely, who the overall ownership, and I truly believe that kind of everything trickles down from there, right? That the owners or partners, they’re going to set the tone for the culture and if that vibe isn’t as positive, then I think it’s going to be reflected in the rest of the company. However, vice versa, the owners or partners can set definitely a great culture, a great vibe for the company, and I think it does affect and reaches the rest of management all the way down to maybe more entry level employees.

Ben:                 One of the things, and this isn’t agency specific, but I think that organizations do take on the culture of their founders, right? It all starts with them and grows from there. Generally when you’re working for an agency, the founders are out shaking the trees, trying to drum up new business, right? Working on strategic problems and they’re very infrequently primary operators in the company. With limited time and exposure to them, how do you evaluate your connection with an agency founder?

Chris:               Yeah, so there’s multiple ways to do it. One in terms of just seeing how they think, I mean a lot of agencies, while they might be 50, 100, 200 people now, that wasn’t always the case, right? So a lot of times there is evidence out there online of previous publications that they’ve written for, previous speaking engagements that they’ve had, maybe they were doing that stuff to generate new business before it started happening a little bit more automatically for the company.

Chris:               So you can start to still look for previous work from agency owners like that, to see if there’s a connection between you and the agency. As well, going back to reaching out to former employees, while a lot of people might not have day to day direct access with kind of ownership, they likely still have had quite a few interactions with them, and they will probably be able to tell you, “Hey, here’s what I thought of the owner, here’s what I thought of leadership,” based on maybe a little bit more limited interactions. There’s definitely still ways to get that information despite maybe less ease of access.

Ben:                 Not all agencies are created the same. Once you feel like there is a cultural fit and you’re thinking about evaluating an agency role, how do you understand how to make a fit and carve out a role that works for you? It seems like you’ve done a great job of this at Go Fish Digital, you’ve had multiple promotions and new iterations of your role. When you do find the right agency, how do you figure out where you can make a difference in the organization?

Chris:               Yeah, I mean I truly believe it’s just whatever interests you, right? Whatever you find yourself doing more often. Whichever tasks or initiatives that you wake up on Monday and actually look forward to doing, and don’t push off till maybe a day or two later. Those are the things that you should probably be going more down the rabbit hole with, right? There’s always value in having someone with an extremely deep expertise. That’s one, what truly interests you. Second, finding the opportunities or gaps within the organization, right? If you can kind of look around and look at your organization’s work as a whole, just thinking to yourself, “Hey, what could we improve on?” Maybe your organization doesn’t have strong SEO visualizations, but that you can be the person to actually go out and use something to figure out how to make those SEO visualizations, and there’s value in that.

Chris:               So one, figure out what you like to do, and then two, figuring out gaps between what the organization already has and ways that you know, you could add value in that specific area. Those are probably two of the best ways to kind of make a defined role. Sometimes it just takes just kind of that initial impetus to become that person. I remember one of my first months of the agency, I took on a structured data initiative for our client, right? All it was I was going to invest just a little bit more time into figuring out how to make this structure data implementation work. We ended up getting it implemented and had success for the clients. Kind of from that point on I became known as the structure data guy, right? So sometimes it just starts for that initial impetus, until you can start to be able to be defined by more of a specialty within the organization.

Ben:                 I think that’s one of the things that impresses me the most about your experience, is that you started off very broadly working in digital marketing, realized very quickly that SEO was a place that you wanted to specialize, and then have become the SEO guy within your agency within a relatively short period of time. It’s not always as easy for the rest of us to figure out what our niche is, how were you able to find that fit and brand yourself and market yourself within the agencies so successfully?

Chris:               Yeah, so I think it just comes back to finding your true interests. When I first started what I, and a lot of the other SEOs and agency noticed is, I was doing a lot of the architectural tasks. I naturally would gravitate toward the crawling and indexing and I really got excited about anything that we could scale, right? Anytime we could make this one change in this one place and it’s going to apply to thousands or millions of pages. That was what really interested me. So by knowing that’s what I kind of gravitated toward, that helped me carve out my niche because then I started doing more tasks based on that. Started to look at innovative solutions were we do stuff related to call it an indexing, but we don’t do a lot of stuff maybe related to crawler depth, and I became the person to kind of jump on that. Then figure out, “Okay, how can we take a look at this specific architectural element from maybe a different perspective? And how can the agency go deeper there?”

Chris:               So really it was just kind of a matter of finding the things that naturally interested me and just asking questions from other SEOs, other SEOs have an expertise in something you’re interested around, not being afraid to go out and ask questions, “Hey, how did you implement this structure data for our clients? How did it work out? What were the results?” Constantly being curious about things that you can see yourself growing into is highly beneficial. I think that’s also really useful advice is, within an organization, don’t be afraid to ask questions, especially when you see things are going well for a client, ask questions, whoever’s on that account, ask what they think is making it so successful. Don’t be afraid to go out and kind of ask those questions within an organization.

Ben:                 The last question I have for you, having worked at agencies your entire career, what is the thing that you think that in-house SEOs would find most surprising about what the lifestyle and benefits of working at an agency are?

Chris:               Yeah, that’s a good question. You probably have to ask one of them. I would think the constant mind shifting that it takes to put yourself from one client to another within the same day. Right? So in the same eight to 10 hour period, we might have to think about five to 10 different clients, and whether that’s thinking about a particular implementation, whether that’s popping on a client call and actually getting an ID and findings, this kind of ability to constantly shift your thinking from one problem to the next. I think, that would be the most surprising.

Chris:               I think that can be one of the more mentally challenging things with an agency side, is constantly having to navigate between all of these different clients, and make sure that not only are you able to think about all these different aspects in different ways, but do it very quickly where you can jump on a call and then instantly shift from thinking about one client’s organization and SEO challenges to another with about five minutes in between. So I think that’s probably one of the things I think in-house people would be most surprised about.

Ben:                 The context switching is something that definitely surprised me. Moving from my in-house roles to working in a service based business. I think that’s great advice. Chris, I appreciate you coming on the show and telling us a little bit about what life is like at an agency, what to look for in an agency, and how they really work from the inside. Thanks for being our guest.

Chris:               Yeah, I appreciate you so much for having me, Ben. I hope we get to do it again soon.

Ben:                 Okay, and that wraps up this episode of The Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Chris Long, Senior Manager of SEO at Go Fish Digital. We’d love to continue the conversation with you, so if you’re interested in contacting Chris, you can find a link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes. You can contact him on Twitter where his handle is gofishchris, or you could visit his company’s website, which is gofishdigital.com.

Ben:                 Just one link in our show notes I’d like to tell you about. If you didn’t have a chance to take notes while you were listening to this podcast, head over to voicesofsearch.com where we have summaries of all of our episodes, the contact information for our guests. You can also send us your topic suggestions, or your SEO questions. You can even apply to be a guest speaker on The Voices of Search podcast. Of course, you can always reach out on social media, our handle is voicesofsearch on Twitter, or you can reach out to me directly. My handle is Benjshap, B-E-N-J-S-H-A-P.

Ben:                 If you haven’t subscribed yet and you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, we’re going to publish episodes four to five times a week. So hit the subscribe button in your podcast app and check back in your feed soon. All right. That’s it for today, but until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.